Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers crew chief David Comingdeer checks a truck before his crew leaves the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

CN Fire Rangers operate under minimal budget

Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers Isaac Merchant, front, and Tommy Green sharpen chainsaws prior to leaving the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers Isaac Merchant, front, and Tommy Green sharpen chainsaws prior to leaving the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers Isaac Merchant, front, and Tommy Green sharpen chainsaws prior to leaving the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY Phoenix Archives
09/14/2012 08:31 AM

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - From January to September, the Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers responded to 157 fires within the tribe’s jurisdiction. But as the number of fires remain consistent with previous years, the Fire Rangers crew is down to a fraction of its previous workforce.

“Three years ago, I had about 10 to 12 men that I could work six to eight months out of the year, to put out these 200 to 300 fires that we have,” Fire Rangers crew chief David Comingdeer said. “Due to cuts and the lack of support to my department, next Tuesday (Sept. 4) we’ll be down to four firefighters and the same amount of fires to fight.”

The Fire Rangers are extensively trained and held to a higher standard than other firefighters in the area, Comingdeer said.

“We are the only federally qualified wild land firefighters in the Cherokee Nation,” he said. “We have lots of volunteer fire departments and lots of city fire departments, but none of them are federally qualified or equipped to fight wild land fire in the Cherokee Nation. They’re state-qualified, state-certified, not federal.”

Comingdeer added that he’s the program’s only full-time CN employee. The Bureau of Indian Affairs employs the other three members, but Comingdeer said it would be beneficial for the tribe to hire the men full time.

“We’ve tried to get them that way, to have Cherokee Nation hire these men to work here permanently. So far we haven’t had any luck doing that,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s budget restraints. I just don’t think that the right people have found out.”

Natural Resources Director Pat Gwin said federal funds allocated to the program have been cut in previous years.

“We used to get a far greater amount from the BIA,” said Gwin. “Our funding level has dropped from about $172,000 to the $56,000 that it is now. We are only able to conduct actual fire suppression activities upon the instruction and oversight of the bureau.”

Staffing is not the only problem the Fire Rangers face. Comingdeer said the program’s budget doesn’t include maintenance expenses for equipment or an operating base.

“It’s very difficult to fight fire the way we do because we don’t have a headquarters. We don’t have a building. We don’t have a place to park our equipment,” said Comingdeer. “Our equipment sits out in the heat and freezing cold all year long. Yet during fire season there is a big demand for us to perform at a federal level, with substandard funding.”

Gwin acknowledged that a building would be welcome, but again stated that funds aren’t’ there.

“It’s a non-tribal priority allocation program,” he said. “A lot of the money that the bureau dolls out in the annual funding agreement is called TPA, which means we have a certain amount of leeway as to how we can spend that. The preparedness fund, it comes down as a very specific line item. It says, you will maintain this truck, you will maintain an employee.”

Comingdeer also said the department’s importance is often overlooked, at least until it’s needed. However, Gwin said the tribe and non-tribal firefighters appreciate the Fire Rangers.

Oklahoma Forestry crew chief Dale Winkler said the Fire Rangers play a vital role in protecting tribal wild lands.

“I’ve worked with David as far as fighting wild land fires and they’ve been very helpful,” he said. “They help protect and preserve our wild lands, our forests out here and also the houses that surround them.”

Winkler said the amount of crew hands in which the Fire Rangers employ is much smaller than the crews he is accustomed to working with, particularly for the rapidly approaching fall fire season. He said his concern is for local communities, particularly in rural areas, because fires caused evacuations in Oklahoma during the summer.

“We could have another Luther or Drumright fire right here in Adair County or Cherokee County or Sequoyah County,” said Winkler. “In the Bell, Cave Springs and Lyon Switch areas we’ve got a lot of tribal homes there. They’re not easy to get to.”

918-453-5000 ext. 5903


10/25/2016 01:45 PM
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Oct. 21 designated eight counties that are fully or partially located within the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction as primary natural disaster areas due to damages and losses caused by a recent drought. Those counties are Adair, Cherokee, Delaware, Mayes, McIntosh, Muskogee, Rogers, Sequoyah, Tulsa and Wagoner in northeastern Oklahoma. “Our hearts go out to those Oklahoma farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling Oklahoma producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.” All counties listed above were designated natural disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency, provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity. Other FSA programs that can provide assistance, but do not require a disaster declaration, include the Emergency Conservation Program; Livestock Forage Disaster Program; Livestock Indemnity Program; Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program; and the Tree Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
10/24/2016 04:00 PM
FORT YATES, N.D. – Cherokee Nation officials and employees presented a $10,000 check to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in mid-October to help with attorney fees and delivered three truckloads of firewood to the Sacred Stone Camp where thousands of people continue to unite to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. According to a CN press release, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd and other tribal representatives met with several Standing Rock Sioux officials as well as campsite leaders and water protectors while in North Dakota. Hoskin Jr. said the Cherokee people are ones who have been “dispossessed, forcibly removed and had economies built on the backs of our people in their natural resources.” “That is a history that the Lakota and Dakota who are now protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline share,” Hoskin Jr. said. “It is a history that Indigenous people all over this world have shared and we are here to help change that history.” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Vice Chairman Jesse McLaughlin said having the CN’s support meant much. “We are grateful. It’s getting cold and we are hunkered down until the end so we want everyone to stay warm. Firewood, fuel, and winterized tents are the biggest needs,” he said. According to the release, after approval from the CN Tribal Council, CN donated $10,000 to help the Sioux tribe with attorney fees and other costs to keep out the pipeline. Including the 54 ricks of wood delivered in October, the tribe has donated more than 100 ricks with plans to send another delivery in November. “This is the first time in history of tribes sustaining this much energy for one cause. It’s not about one tribe, it’s about all tribes coming together for a common cause,” Byrd said. “The Cherokee Nation is standing up for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all tribes who deserve a voice and respect.”
10/24/2016 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokees For Standing Rock group and the Mankiller Flats Water Protectors will host “Stickball for Standing Rock” on Oct. 29 on the grounds of the Cherokee Nation Male Seminary Recreation Center. According to the event page on Facebook, The Mankiller Flats Water Protectors are putting on a round robin stickball tournament to benefit the camps near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. “Men and women teams will play each other in round robin format. The men’s team with the most wins will play the women’s team with the most wins and the winner will be the champ and will win T-shirts,” the page states. “Max players per team is 10 and minimum is 4.” The entry fee for each team is $50. The event will include youth activities, arts and crafts tables as well as Indian tacos. Sticks will be available for those who don’t own any. To sign up for the tournament contact Abraham Bearpaw, Callie Benoit or Cole Hogner on Facebook or visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> to view the event page. The event will begin at 10 a.m. The Male Seminary Recreation Center is located at 1123 W. Fourth St.
10/21/2016 04:00 PM
GROVE, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Entertainment officials are hosting two job fairs in November to help fill available positions at the new Cherokee Casino Grove. The job fairs will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 2 and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 14 at the Grove Community Center at 104 W. 3rd St. Attendees should bring their Certificate Degree of Indian Blood and tribal citizenship cards as well as an updated resume. Positions are available in gaming, operations, hospitality, security, maintenance and food and beverage. According to a CNE press release, Cherokee Nation-owned companies offer a comprehensive benefits package, including health, life, vision and dental insurance; a matching 401k plan, paid vacation and sick leave; and many other benefits. Native American applicants will be given preference, and all applicants must be 18 years of age or older to apply. Cherokee Casino Grove is located at Highway 59 and E. 250 Road near Tom Cat Corner and close to the popular Shangri-La Golf Club, marina and resort at Monkey Island.
10/21/2016 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Applications for the 2017 “Remember the Removal” bike ride are available for Cherokee Nation citizens. The application deadline is midnight Oct. 28. The three-week, 1,000-mile ride in June teaches CN citizens ages 16-24 about their culture and history as they cycle the same route their ancestors were forced to walk in 1838-39 to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. The route travels through seven states testing the cyclists’ physical and mental endurance. If selected to participate, participants would be required to take part in a physical training schedule and attend history classes. The classes will be taught during the four months of training to prepare for the ride. Participants will learn about the struggles their ancestors. The selection committee, whose members will not be related to any applicant, will review the required essays and applications submitted. It will be looking for CN citizens willing to learn more about Cherokee history and their ancestry related to the Trail of Tears. Successful applicants will be expected to interact with the public and speak to the public about their experiences on the ride. “Remember the Removal” cyclists also will be photographed, videoed, interviewed during the trip. So the committee will be looking for riders who are personable, well-spoken and would make ambassadors for the CN. Applicants must not have participated in the program before, be 16 to 24 as of Jan. 1 prior to the event and be able to pass a sport physical provided by the CN during the post-selection orientation. It is recommended participants reside inside the tribe’s jurisdiction, including the contiguous counties. Participants may have a different temporary address while away at school. If a participant lives outside the jurisdiction he or she will still be required to make all mandatory trainings and history classes in Tahlequah. Applications are online at <a href="" target="_blank"></a> and must be submitted by Oct. 28. The application requires an essay about why the applicant wants to participate, three letters of recommendation mailed or emailed to <a href="mailto:"></a> directly from the recommending party by the application deadline. Letters of recommendation should not be from CN employees, administration officials or Tribal Councilors. Letters should be from someone the applicant has worked with academically or professionally or a person they have known for a minimum of three years. For more information, call Gloria Sly at 918-453-5154 or email <a href="mailto:"></a>.
10/20/2016 04:00 PM
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Campaign finance reports show the Cherokee Nation gave $6 million to the group behind a casino legalization proposal that was disqualified from the November ballot, while a dog track and horse track gave more than $1.4 million to the campaign opposing it. Arkansas Wins in 2016 reported Monday the Oklahoma-based tribe made up the bulk of $6.1 million in total contributions raised for its proposal to legalize casinos in Boone, Miller and Washington counties. The Arkansas Supreme Court last week disqualified the measure. The campaign said earlier this year Cherokee Nation would run the Washington county casino if the measure passed. Delaware North, which Southland Park Gaming and Racing, donated more than $721,000 on the campaign against the measure. Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs donated more than $748,000.